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Devil’s Due

January 17, 2014
Devil's Due

When I saw V/H/S, I did give Radio Silence credit for the technical chops on display in their segment “10/31/98”. Maybe, given some more room to stretch they could come up with better results, not to mention a decent story? Well, Devil’s Due has arrived, and with it the answer: nope.

Oh, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and cinematographer Justin Martinez are still technically proficient with their visual horror effects, but at its best this is a haphazardly-assembled collection of excuses to show them off. They contort themselves more than Linda Blair to explain all the camera sources for their found-footage, and even then leave tons of gaping holes. And this is just the beginning of the problems at the story level.

Zach and Samantha McCall (Zach Gilford and Allison Miller) are newlyweds. Shortly after their honeymoon in Santo Domingo, Sam finds herself pregnant despite using the pill “religiously”. As her pregnancy goes on, weird things start happening; Sam starts acting strangely; a weird group of men start watching the house. And of course there’s a priest (Sam Anderson) who identifies some symbols Zach finds as those of an apocalyptic cult.

This ground has been covered before, most notably in Rosemary’s Baby: a monstrous or demonic child as a reification of misgivings about parenthood. But there’s one big difference this time around: who the scary things happen to. Rosemary herself was the victim in her story; her pregnancy was something that was done to her and she did not want it. Especially in 1968, there were tremendous resonances over the idea of a woman exercising control over her own body — or lacking it.

But here, Zach is the victim. Despite his initial enthusiasm, his wife’s pregnancy changes things, and he starts to lose control of the family. And control is something very important to him. Sam was orphaned at birth, and grew up in the foster system; a “normal” family like the one he came from is something he intends to give to her. Part of that is the video camera: his father was an early camcorder adopter, and so he intends to record everything about their family history right from the night before their wedding, conveniently providing most of our footage. And when Sam tells someone it’s “his thing”, he quickly corrects her and enforces his viewpoint: “our thing”.

So for any baby to enter into Zach’s carefully-planned world is bound to be a disaster. Sam will change, and her relationship to him will change. The baby will become an interloper. How do we know it’s not just about his own misgivings about fatherhood, like Eraserhead? because Zach never faces the child or his responsibility towards it, but only his increasingly-alienated wife.

There is no doubt these filmmakers are adept at rendering realistic supernatural effects in a found-footage setting, but the setting itself doesn’t hang together. And, like most of their V/H/S cohort, Radio Silence show some really serious problems with women: if they’re not passive, obedient victims they’re demonic and evil. God forbid they actually be characters.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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